Throwing caution to the wind, ICCAT raised the quota for bluefin tuna and cloaked it as a recovery plan, said Michael Sutton, director of WWF's Endangered Seas Campaign. Such short-sighted action will only accelerate this species decline.
The 25-member Commission accepted the most optimistic recovery scenario presented, which indicated that recovering Western Atlantic bluefin tuna populations to mid-1970s levels is no longer achievable, and abandoned established management goals that it had used for more than 20 years.
By halving the recovery target for these severely depleted fish, ICCAT has shown that you can achieve anything if you set your goals low enough, said Sutton. The consequences could be disastrous. Raising quotas as the first step in a recovery plan just doesn't make sense.
Responding to demands from fishing interests to increase the quota, ICCAT rejected pleas for caution and chose to act on an unrealistic rebuilding scenario. The Commission actually ignored warnings from their own Scientific Committee that equally valid recovery scenarios projected Western Atlantic bluefin populations would plummet within about 10 years unless catches were cut significantly. Even the most optimistic scenario called for a reduction in the quota, if the Commission wanted to be reasonably sure of maintaining the status quo.
ICCAT estimates that Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined by more than 80 percent since the mid-1970s. The new quota increases catch levels by more than 100 tonnes per year. This level of catch jeopardizes the recovery of the species and the future viability of the fishery. Conservationists are going to have to look to other international fora, such as the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), for leadership to save this species, added Sutton.
On a more positive note, the Commission made progress in encouraging compliance with its conservation programme. However, even full compliance with the current inadequate management measures will not achieve rebuilding of depleted fisheries. For example, ICCAT has established for 1999 and 2000 a total allowable catch for Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna that its scientific Committee has determined is not sustainable.
In addition, after years of battling to open up the ICCAT process to participation by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), ICCAT revised its guidelines and criteria for granting observer status. These changes will allow conservation organizations and fishing groups to participate in the on-going efforts to convince ICCAT to take its stewardship responsibilities more seriously.
For more information, please contact the Endangered Seas Campaign +44 1483-419-294.